Gateway: News

Olympic swimmer wants to keep children safe in the water

Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard is ready to dive into life in the Maritime City, planning to open a water safety school that teaches infants and young children to swim.

Should things stay on track, Beard, 33, hopes to open the school in the summer of 2016. Right now, she’s spending her time on dry land looking for investors and partnerships.

“It’s not necessarily to make little Olympic swimmers; it’s to save lives,” she said.

Beard is a talented swimmer who has won seven Olympic medals, but with the school she’s not looking to mold professional athletes. Instead, it’s all about making the water a safe place.

She knows that the community here is very water-centric, so a swimming school that caters to young children and infants will be an asset. There has been a good deal of interest and support in the project.

A California native, Beard now makes her home in Gig Harbor with her husband, Sacha Brown, and children Blaise, 5, and Doone, 1. She’s immersing herself in the community, linking up with with the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce and speaking at local affairs forums.

In her 2012 autobiography “In the Water They Can’t See You Cry,” she shared her struggle with self-harm, drug use, an eating disorder and toxic relationships.

“I think the things I’ve experienced in life aren’t different from the things other people experience in life,” she said.

As a motivational speaker, especially with young athletes, Beard aims to both inspire and reassure.

“There’s always the moments where it’s hard,” she said. “It can get very, very frustrating and those moments can last for a long time.”

Although she went to four Olympics and has some hardware —two gold, four silver and one bronze medal — it wasn’t as easy as she made it all look.

After reaching the top of the podium at 14 years old, Beard changed considerably both mentally and physically as the 2000 Sydney games drew near.

“The reality hits you of how hard it is to make the Olympics,” she said.

The struggle to make the Sydney team paid off and the medal that means the most isn’t gold — it’s the lone bronze she earned in Australia.

When she was at the 1996 games, she was only a teenager and describes herself as oblivious to what was going on around her.

She was young and immature, in her view, and had so much to learn, including how to do her own laundry. Teammate Janet Evans, a swimming great, helped her out with laundry — “She even folded it all nice” — but it was on Beard to learn the rest of the life lessons as she came of age in the competitive spotlight.

During her career, Beard was in the zone. While trying to make it to each Olympiad, break world records and win national titles at the University of Arizona, she didn’t have time to take a step back and think about the gravity of what she was doing. That’s starting to change.

“The older I get the more I think, ‘Wow, that’s actually really cool,’ ” Beard said.